Henley-On-Thames is a vibrant little town based on the river Thames in Oxfordshire, located about a couple of hours drive from London. You can catch the train from London to Reading and from there, you can get a train to Henley-On-Thames. The train schedules are, however, quite sparse and hence, it would be much easier to get a taxi or bus from Reading station. The drive time is about an hour and a half.
About ten minutes into the drive and you find yourselves in the middle of lush green country pastures, cows grazing in some fields and small towns passing by. Most of my journeys to Henley have been in the summers and the skies are a beautiful shade of blue with soft, cotton-like clouds making interesting formations. A brief drizzle here and there does take place, but nothing much to bother about. It’s just the English weather at work.
As you slowly enter the town, small English buildings (mind you – not apartments but proper English houses) make their appearance. Colorful doors numbered and with beautiful flower pots placed outside some welcome you to town. Some of these houses are converted into shops selling high-placed fashion brands to smaller shops selling local artifacts such as handmade dolls and stuff. I have never stopped by these places and at this phase, I do regret that.
Today marks exactly seven years since I first stepped into Henley-On-Thames for studying for a degree in Management at the Business School there and I vividly remember how depressed I actually felt when I reached there. It was a dark, gloomy day and while the town was quite pretty to wander into, my school was based in the middle of a green pasture that was about a 15-minute drive away from town. Buses were infrequent and the only option was to call for a taxi from the school’s reception. I was amongst the first few people to have reached the school and was to spend an entire day there since lessons officially began the next day. I didn’t know anyone and it did actually get pretty lonely there. Next day, was a different story however.
One of the key sights of Henley On Thames is the Henley Business School. It is based in a farmland a few acres large. The school was actually an old heritage townhouse but about a decade and a half got converted into a Business School. It ranks amongst the top ten globally for its distance learning Management program. There are resident courses too here and those are equally renowned globally. The building is a beautiful white structure with the interiors being done with some authentic British décor. The rooms are all converted now into state-of-the-art classrooms but the English touch still remains in the social areas of the building. Wooden floorings, large mirrors, huge sofas are some that come to mind immediately.
Outside the building are neatly manicured lawns lined with cobbled pathways for walking. A giant chessboard stays in place next to a bed of lavender flowers that sway in the wind.
Walk further a bit and you see the river Thames passing through the farmland. Ducks and Swans flutter around in the water. The green lawn next to the river has wooden benches sprinkled at regular intervals where you can sit and catch in all the beauty around. It was one of my most favorite things to do when I was there. Post my classes after 5.00PM, I used to sit on the bench by the river and just soak in the scene around.
Blue skies with a hint of drizzle, soft green lawns, the gentle sound of the splashing river water, soft wind blowing in my face and maybe a duck or two squawking around. No sight of any humans around and no city noise. Just this scene and me. This was my safe place. I have never felt more comfortable and in tune with nature than in this place. Oh and did I mention, this place has a lot of rabbits, squirrels, cows and sometimes – foxes too that roam the grounds. If you stay on campus, be sure to spot a few of them from your window.
The farmland was lined with many other tree species and with one of my favorites, the Oak. It is a royal tree. Strong and lasting almost a lifetime. In fact, Henley has the Oak as one of its symbols too.
Back in town, there is the town square where you have the clock tower and town house. I haven’t really ventured out sight-seeing here because I found it more comfortable just walking around town and being one with it. The cobbled stone streets, small English style houses, Lamps on the streets are the things that struck me the most.
A few minute’s walk down between one of the many lanes, you can find yourself past the river area where boats are anchored. You can opt for dinner cruises too if you like from here.
The town is filled with an amazing selection of restaurants. You have the options of various cuisines such as Italian, Indian, Kebabs to name a few but if you are looking for an authentic experience, then head over to the Angel Pub. This place had become a regular with us during the course.
The pub is an extremely simple place – typically British, I may add. There is an indoor space (best to be seated here if the weather isn’t quite upto it outside) but if you are willing to brave the strong gusts of wind and the occasional drizzle in the summer, don’t give up on the chance to be seated outside. What is so special about it? For starters, it is literally quite on the river. It is an open area and the floors extend out onto the river (well, it flows below). Wooden tables and benches for seating are placed there and you can share these with other people if they don’t mind too. Somewhere below, where the water is flowing, you will find sea gulls squawking and asking for leftover scraps of food.
And when you get here, order a Pimms. There is nothing else you should order when in England and in such a beautiful setting. For those unaware, Pimms is an alcoholic concoction that is mixed in lemonade and served with summer fruits such as strawberries, oranges and apples that are chopped and mixed in it.
The place serves some pretty good pub grub. From sharing platters such as nachos, fish and chips to proper pub meals, everything is the deal here.
Henley on Thames is also home to the Henley Royal Regatta that is held annually in July. Row Boat races is what it is all about. Visitors attend from a national as well as international arena to this prestigious event and it is a great ground for social networks too.
While it has been 4 years now since I have now been to Henley (the last time I was there was in 2013 when I graduated with a management degree), my heart still craves this place and the simplicity this countryside town had to offer.